Perspectives of the 1812 Era: Superstitious Early AmericansWritten by Frank Kuron | | email@example.com
Step on a crack – break your momma’s back. A black cat crosses your path – bad luck is imminent. Speak of recent good fortune — better knock on wood or your fates will change. Superstitions have been around forever. Aside from believing, “If I dare watch my Detroit Lions play on a Sunday, they’ll lose,” I don’t really buy into them.
The 1812-era Indians and frontiersmen held numerous superstitious notions. Most involved the natural world. Unusual weather events, certain animals’ actions and even plants were believed to be omens of the future or have special attributes for good or evil.
The Indians are well-known to have made spiritual connections with the forces of nature. Tobacco is reserved for special ceremonies as a symbol of prayer. Holly, pine and cedar trees stay green year -round and are therefore believed to have not slept during the seven days of creation and so are imbued with extraordinary medicinal powers. The owl is believed to be a messenger of bad news, and their feathered-friends, the ravens, even more ominously bring a message of death. Astronomical events like shooting stars and meteor showers were portents of great things. That was certainly true in the case of the renowned Indian chief Tecumseh, who was said to be born at the moment a brilliant shooting star blazed across the sky.
The frontier families had an opposite take on meteors and the like, believing their appearance to be a warning sign of judgment day arriving soon. The unearthing of an odd-shaped root vegetable sent shivers through frontier shovels, being a portent of poor harvests. But, horseshoes hung over doorways, with the open ends up, caught the falling heavenly good fortunes for the inhabitants.
And then there are the abundant beliefs surrounding pigs, yes, pigs. One being seen scurrying about with straw in his mouth meant bad weather approaching. To slaughter a pig in a month without an “r”, the summer months, would cause rapid spoilage. But, the unexpected visit of a pig while one was traveling ensured success on that journey. This superstition explains the curious story of the “militia pig” of 1813.
That summer, Kentuckians gathered into a company of volunteers, headed north to fight on Canadian soil in what became known as the Battle of the Thames. It was there that Tecumseh fell; himself having a premonition of his death. And, just before the commencement of the fight, General Harrison spotted an eagle flying over the battlefield, and noted such as good luck to his friend Oliver Perry. The commodore remarked that he likewise saw an eagle aloft before his victory on the lake. But it was a pig who entertained the men on their way to the Thames battleground as he engaged another hog in a hoof-fight just outside of Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
When the pork battle ended, and the men moved northward, they were surprised to see the victor bringing up the rear of their march. As they made camp for the night, the happy hog was seen hunting for his own spot nearby. Come morning, the animal followed along as before, halting and starting daily as if he were one of the corps. Upon arrival at the Ohio River, the men ferried across to Cincinnati. The unprovoked pig plunged into the water, swam across, and waited for all the troops to finally make it over. As before, the new recruit followed along, becoming so familiar to the men that he was given full daily rations. Even when foodstuffs became scarce, no one looked at this pig as bacon!
At Sandusky Bay, she boarded a ship to Put-in-Bay Island. But when offered transit to the Canadian shore she backed away. The men reasoned that she was invoking her constitutional right to not fight on foreign soil. She was given passage back to the mainland and weeks later, when the victorious troops returned, they were amazed to discover her waiting for the arduous, cold and snowy trip home. Having become the favorite soldier of Kentucky Governor Isaac Shelby, the exhausted pig was brought to the governor’s home where she spent the rest of her life as his prized pet.
Perhaps the journey of these men was victorious because they didn’t ignore the superstition of an unexpected pig’s presence?
Frank Kuron is author of the War of 1812 book, “Thus Fell Tecumseh.” Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org